Startling Stats About Motherhood & Poverty from Activistas


Our friends out west are hip to the same issues we’ve been struggling with. Start your new year with these thoughts from Activistas

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t until I had my first child that it occurred to me that motherhood in itself might be a serious economic barrier for women. Now, it seems like I’m constantly stumbling over evidence of this. Here’s one shocking piece of data I came across recently in Ellen Bravo’s book, Taking on the Big Boys:

40% of divorced mothers wind up living in poverty.

How can this be?

Most fundamentally, it’s because motherhood turns women into economic dependents:

  • The wage gap between mothers and childless women is GREATER than the wage gap between men and women.
  • Discrimination against mothers in the workforce leads to lower hiring rates, lower-level jobs, lower wages, and fewer promotions.
  • Working mothers often work part-time. Part-time workers earn 20% less per hour than other workers with the same education and experience. Only 17% of them have any access to health insurance through their jobs. They also are legally excluded from unemployment insurance and retirement.
  • Divorce generally leaves mothers with the economic burdens of providing for children, without the economic support of the man’s wage. Alimony is typically low and temporary.  

While women overall have come a long way, achieving a great deal of economic independence, mothers have not. 

What can we do? 

We need to start talking about this. Talking to each other, talking to the fathers of our children, talking to our legislators, talking to people at our workplaces. The economic impact of motherhood on children has been effectively hidden, made invisible by the notion of women’s progress overall.

How has motherhood affected you economically?
You can find the post where it originally appeared here.


  • Joannie

    Hello Valerie,

    Thanks for posting this, yer sure, I certainly agree with you and Helen Bravo on this. Motherhood is politial. The way i've come to understand this is through the social structuring of care, historically privatized and associated with gendered roles, the male breadwinner (fatherhood) and the famile care-giver (motherhood). Both the state and the market rely on the family for care (which continues to be gendered). In earlier times women had little choice but to take on mothering as a role, as an identity. In this period of changing gendered practices, we are moving away from the breadwinner model of wagefixing, but onto an adult worker model, that does not account for care.

    In the literature there is talk about transformational change to account for care which importantly overlaps with issues related to being a mother in the contemporary context. A google search would find a relevant article in this regard by Jane Lewis and Susanna Giullari titled: The adult woker model family, gender equality and care – see what you think.

    best from Australia, Joannie

  • Lisa Frack

    Thanks so much, Valerie, for sharing this post here!

    As we all join together (west to east and back again) to improve the outdated public (and private) policies that adversely affect mothers in this country, I'm convinced we'll make progress. It's high time, huh?

    Best, Lisa Frack, Activistas

  • Paul

    Perhaps the solution is to give fathers automatic custody in the case of divorce. Then you poor women wouldn't have such a burden to carry.

    Just a suggestion.

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